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California pregnancy centers fight new abortion-referral mandate

Two federal lawsuits were filed in California federal court challenging a new state law that, plaintiffs claim, violates California pregnancy centers’ constitutional rights by forcing them to tell clients about abortions.

The law, signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 9 and set to take effect in January, forces private religious pregnancy centers to inform every woman entering their doors about state-sponsored public programs providing immediate and free abortions for qualifying women.

Under the law, centers are required to provide patients with information about abortion and the availability of abortion services. Unlicensed centers are required to post a notice that they are not licensed medical facilities.

“Pregnancy care centers provide valuable resources and services to women facing unplanned pregnancies, giving them meaningful life-affirming alternatives to abortion, like adoption,” said Dean Broyles, attorney for The National Center for Law and Policy, who is part of the legal team bringing the suit.

Broyles said that this is an unjust law that violates the freedom of conscience, religious freedom, and the freedom of speech. “If not stopped, the Act will lead to more unnecessary death and dismemberment of children,” said Broyles.

NCLP and Alliance Defending Freedom are representing two San Diego County centers, the Pregnancy Care Clinic in El Cajon and the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center, in the lawsuit.

The law, the first statewide measure of its kind, passed easily along party lines in California’s Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate. But pregnancy centers who challenged similar laws in other states have legal precedent on their side. In recent court battles in Texas, Maryland, and New York, courts eventually struck down comparable laws and defended pregnancy centers’ rights to free speech.

Supporters of California’s new law say they crafted it to specifically address questions raised by court decisions elsewhere.

“The California legislature is so far left that it is delusional about reality,” said Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute (PJI).

PJI filed the lawsuits in federal courts in both southern and northern California. The organization is representing A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding. Both clinics provide free medical services and counseling to women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Supporters of the act argue pregnancy centers that choose not to refer for abortions provide incomplete information to women and exist to coerce women into continuing their pregnancies.

“A growing and alarming movement is working to mislead women in order to achieve their political ideology,” said bill-sponsor Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, in a statement.

But opponents note the private religious centers have a right to say things that align with their religious beliefs.

“Does the government have a right to tell a newspaper what to write, a preacher what to preach, a private school what to teach? Of course not,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, in arguing against the bill. “So why is it OK for the government to force pro-life pregnancy centers against their will to advertise and promote government abortion services?”

Dacus notes that even though PJI is dealing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a traditionally liberal federal district, he believes the courts will see the law for what it is.

“Forcing a religious pro-life charity to proclaim a pro-abortion declaration is on its face an egregious violation of both the free speech and the free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution,” he said. “We will not rest until this government mandate is completely halted.”

The one-sided law does not require abortion providers to offer abortion alternatives to their clients.

The attorneys are seeking an immediate court injunction to stop the law from taking effect in January.

— CNJ staff

World News Service used in this report

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